Nuclear power & carbon storage not the answer

Another example today from the ‘Guardian’ of how cleverness is not the same as wisdom and how ‘mindsets’ trap even very bright people into false thinking. Thus the late Professor David Mackay, former chief government scientist, claims, in a posthumously published interview, that the only way forward on the energy front is a combination of nuclear power and carbon capture and storage (CSS).

His worldview was one that seeks to maintain business-as-usual by other means. Revealingly he says ” I’d advise Las Vegas to get a nuke.” But places like Las Vegas have no place in a sustainable society. He mocks the idea that renewable society can power the UK (an “appalling delusion”). But for various reasons, the UK economy could, should and will have to be shrunk. It is that downsizing that will make renewables (plus efficiency promotion and radical conservation measures) practicable.

For all his evident knowledge, Mackay blithely ignore the ‘rate and magnitude’ problem facing any innovation but especially large-scale, expensive and complex technologies. In other words, they are unlikely to make sufficient difference on the necessary scale and in the available time, even if all other problems associated with them were, by magic, to disappear.

Those other problems are not only not going away but are also getting worse and at an escalating rate. Witness the exploding costs now projected for Hinckley C nuclear power station. Then there are the little matters of the huge radioactive waste, with no disposal solution to hand, that would be produced by a nuclear industry expanded enough to power ‘Las Vegas’ style living. [In terms of total delivered energy, of all forms, in the world, nukes are still a small contributor, a fact often disguised by conflating energy and electricity consumption]

CSS is a classic false fix ( It has been estimated, for example, that the pipelines and other infrastructure needed for a CSS system big enough to make a sufficient difference would be greater than that required by today’s oil industry. Think of all the impacts its creation would bring.

Mackay also ignores the other impacts of fossil fuel consumption, from oil spills to mountain removal for coal, ones that CSS would not alter. Last but not least, the ecological crisis is not just a crisis of energy supply but of depleting resources of many kinds and of a declining ‘life-support’ systems. ‘High energy society’ can only be maintained temporarily by aggravating all those other crises, ones capable of wrecking civilised living just as surely as climate change.

Clever tunnel vision is still tunnel vision

A classic critique of techno-optimism and the effects of modern technology on society and the environment

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